By airplane to the rocket
Saw the TMBG documentary the other day, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns it's called. I thought it was excellent and highly reommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the Giants. It was probably worth the entry fee just to see what Ira Glass looks like, and there are plenty of other great celeb interviews (I'll definitely be picking up something by Sarah Vowell first chance I get).

My only complaint was that there was almost nothing from the album John Henry, which may be my favorite, and which seems worthy of mention just because of its unique horn-powered sound. Instead, the film basically skipped from the wild success of Flood to the present, with some dismissive talk about problems with the label in the meantime. Too bad!

A new foreign policy?
I'm completely fascinated by the Bush administrations attitude toward Liberia - they're obviously sending up trial balloons for an investment for forces, and it seems so straneg given what we've seen in the past couple years. After all, Liberia has no oil, no WMD program, and no apparent terrorist threat. Meanwhile, there's been a complete lack of interest in other African intervetions, notably in Congo where situation is much more complicated. And as far as I understand the neoconservative ideology, it doesn't really recommend committing blocks of American troops to West Africa.

Probably it has something to do with the fact that the US has a special relationship with Liberia, one which goes all the way back to that country's founding and about which very few Americans are even aware. (France, which has led the charge in Congo, has similarly deep relationships there.) But the Bush administration hasn't exactly been conscientious when it's come to keeping our relationships current. I'm guessing part of the reason Europe is calling for American intervention now is that we've trampled those transatlantic ties - an American intervention would line up closely with European policy and bring a renewed sense of solidarity on the international stage, thereby increasing European prestige and input. And this - as opposed to Congo - is the place where it can happen, owing to the historical relationship between the US and Liberia.

Bush, on the other hand, is probably more interested in domestic problems - this whole swing to Africa, just like his AIDS announcements in the State of the Union, is about alleviating some of the pressures associated with the Iraq situation by playing up the humanitarian side of intervention. This is especially important now that they're failing to find the WMD in Iraq - a consistent policy of intervention worldwide takes the steam out of that whole critique. Even more importantly - and I do think this is key for the Bush strategy - is that a Liberian intervention can play well with Black voters. There's an opportunity here to exploit the history of Liberia on politically favorable terms with a Black electorate that already tends to support Bush's security policies. I think they see this as a chance to tip the scales and create some votes in 04.

Obviously all this is fraught with danger, these kinds of peacekeeping missions are the hardest kinds, and there isn't much potential for dramatic successes a la landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln. But almost all of Bush's foreign policies seem to be calculated long-shots, so it fits. My guess is they're feeling pretty good after the early succsses in the Middle East, so it's time to take another gamble. Let's hope it works in the interests of the Liberian people.

So that's how they do it
In the desert outside Jaisalmer (the one where they do their nuclear testing, apparently) last summer I was totally amazed to see these dung beetles moving backwards, usng their hind legs to roll pieces of dung several times their size. Now it seems they (or at least their African counterparts) navigate with the help of the moon.

Speaking of India, I have a friend who's a dung beetle, or at least he's on my shit list. Last year I accompanied him to India for a month while he criss-crossed the country researching his first novel. Just this week, after a year of work, he sent me the first chapter, and it has me pretty disturbed. A couple of the characters are pretty clearly caricatures of yours truly, although they may have been sliced and spliced to protect the innocent. At one point an email surfaces which is clearly a revised version of one I myself wrote to him - and the context isn't particularly endearing.

But I suppose whining is a little childish, and calling him a dung beetle is a little like spitting into the wind... where, after all, would I fit into that metaphor?

Bring them on?
Via Metafilter, here is our president daring the Iraqi resistance to attack American troops, and Ari Fleischer backpeddaling furiously to try to explain the remark.


The terrorists have won!
Witness, from the New York Times:

French wine sales to the United States, once French winemakers' most promising market and now one of their greatest competitors, are going down the drain.

"It's clear from our American distributors that there is a hesitation to promote French wines for the time being," said Bruno Finance, sales manager for Yvon Mau, one of Bordeaux's largest wine merchants. He said French wine was losing its share of some other markets. "But as of today, the only place there is such a big loss is in the U.S."

My dad must buy a case of wine every time he comes to Chicago, but on the last visit he didn't even look at a cheap French wine I suggested (Domaine Clavel Les Garrigues 1999, if you're interested) because nobody at home will drink it. Tells you something about Indianapolis.

Truthfully, for the most part I've hardly ever been excited about a French wine - that is to say, good French wine is apparently way out of my price range. But interestingly, if French wines are priced higher than similar wines from, say, the US, won't this infomral freeze-out just push up prices here?

MORE: Jeff Cooper's gone and reviewed an 85 Bordeaux for his wine of the week.

Chicago blogmap?
Does anybody know of a Chicago blogmap? I can't find one, and I'm seriously considering putting one together. I've been doing a lot of smalltime scheming with respect to upgrading/reinventing this site, and a blogmap could be a fun summer project. Anyone interested in going in with me - eg someone with programming competency beyond html?


This time it's personal
PG, a little vexed by the law school application process, wonders what he'll think of affirmative action if/when it adversely affects his admittance decisions. It's interesting that even though I've long supported affirmative action, I've never been comfortable telling institutions about my racial composition. For one thing, it's often not even clear to me going in whether race will help or hurt me - it seems to have done both in the past depending on circumstances (eg the government was on an Asian hiring rampage when I applied 4 years ago, but being part Asian can be pretty harsh if you're trying to get into grad school). And as I've explained in the past, I think the unfairness affirmative action creates for the individual is pretty hard to take, even in light of the broader goal (which I support) of changing the perception of historically opressed groups as historically oppressed groups. So I avoid the questions and prefer telephone interviews. Does this make me a hypocrite?

At any rate, it's my experience that the rationality of admittance decisions is pretty obscure, if it's even there to begin with. You get in here, you don't get in there - who knows why? I'm always amazed by these people who are suing the university because they didn't get in - how did they find out about the mechanics of the admissions process? Did they start asking around campus? And did they target their investigations with an eye to race? Call me lazy, call me stupid... this is something I would never do.

Local correspondent
BigOldGeek was practically an eyewitness to the porch collapse here in Chicago that made national news yesterday. His fiance is a doctor, so he has a somewhat unique perspective.

Foreign correspondent
Matthew Yglesias, blogging from Florence, is complaining about the price differential in museum entrance fees for EU citizens vs the rest of us.

In all seriousness, though, I do wonder what the rationale for this policy is supposed to be. The economic logic behind age-based price discrimination is pretty clear, but I can't see any logic behind citizenship-based discrimination.
He goes on to say it's some kind of attempt to create an EU dientity of some kind. But I think this is actually a lot simpler, and very similar to the age based discrimination he mentions. Non-EU-citizens are probably tourists, which means they have money to spend on museum entrances and it's pretty much a given that they're going to spend it. I've seen this before - the extreme case being the Taj Mahal, which charged something like $20 per foreign tourist and maybe 1/100 of that price for Indian nationals.

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